HISTORY OF OUR LEATHER-S/M-FETISH SUBCULTURE AND COMMUNITIES
towards a bibliography
Compiled by for the panel on “History of Our Community” at the Leather Leadership Conference II, New York City, 4/19/98; revised 5/3/98. Copyright is hereby waived, and the contents may be freely reposted or reprinted, as long as this heading remains intact so that corrections or suggested additions may be sent to the compiler, who retains responsibility for any errors and for the opinions expressed herein.
While no single work published as yet can claim to be definitive or comprehensive, the works listed here provide some signposts. Not all are still in print, but copies should be available one way or another. An asterisk (*) indicates those works that the compiler feels give the best overviews and starting points for further research.
BALDWIN, GUY: Ties That Bind (Daedalus, 1993): Mostly columns from Drummer magazine, 1987-1993, by the well-known kink therapist and 1989 International Mr. Leather, including a few explicitly historical essays.
* BEAN, JOSEPH: Leathersex (Daedalus, 1994) and Leathersex Q&A (Daedalus, 1996). Not historical works, but the first has a historical appendix, and the second has one section devoted to historical questions — both brief but very valuable. www.jwbean.com has a wealth of information about this author, artist, editor, and educator, now executive director of the Leather Archives & Museum.
BRAME, GLORIA, et al.: Different Loving — The World of Sexual Dominance and Submission (Random House, 1993; Villard paperback, 1996). Largely based on interviews with contemporaries, but Chapter 2 gives a historical overview of the Victorian roots of modern hetero BDSM.
* CALIFIA, PAT, AND ROBIN SWEENEY, editors: The Second Coming — A Leatherdyke Reader (Alyson, 1996). Billed as a sequel to Coming to Power (see SAMOIS below), which Califia contributed to (and helped edit the revised editions), this has historical essays about several women’s s/m support groups, including Briar Rose, Lesbian Sex Mafia, the Outcasts, and more, as well as other pieces of historical interest.
HARRIS, DANIEL: The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture (Hyperion, 1997). The chapter on “The Death of Kink: Five Stages in the Metamorphosis of the Modern Dungeon” argues that in “mainstreaming” s/m, we have lost what made it valuable. Irritating but thought-provoking.
HOOVEN, VALENTINE F., III: Tom of Finland — His Life and Times (St. Martin’s, 1994). This biography of our most famous gay kink artist includes much about the history of erotic art.
MACK, JOHN E.: A Prince of Our Disorder — The Life of T. E. Lawrence (Harvard, paperback 1998). Lawrence of Arabia would have fit right in with the 1950s gay leather scene in the U.S., but in Britain in the 1930s he was a square peg looking for a round hole. This biography not only discusses Lawrence’s own homosexual masochism but also gives background information on such previously unmentionable British institutions as the Hellfire Club.
MAINS, GEOFF: Urban Aboriginals — A Celebration of Leathersexuality (Gay Sunshine, 1984). A pioneering work — probably the first to connect endorphin release with BDSM experience — that today seems very “70s” in its uncritical enthusiasm but is historically valuable for that very reason.
NAN, MISTRESS: My Private Life — Real Experiences of a Dominant Woman (Daedalus, 1996). The memoirs of a famed West Coast Dominatrix with decades of experience.
* RUBIN, GAYLE: The Valley of the Kings: Leathermen in San Francisco, 1960-1990 (Ph.D. dissertation in anthropology, the University of Michigan, 1994). Unpublished; some day it will be the heart of an indispensable book.
* SAMOIS collective: Coming to Power — Writings and Graphics on Lesbian S/M (1981; revised editions published by Alyson in 1982 and 1987). Among many other things, this extremely influential book produced by the first openly lesbian s/m organization popularized the now widely accepted concept of s/m as a “consensual power exchange” (it seems to have been coined by Cynthia Slater, who founded the Society of Janus in San Francisco, and was used by local sex educations in that city).
STEWARD, SAMUEL M.: Chapters from an Autobiography (Grey Fox Press, 1981). From sleeping with Lord Alfred Douglas to filming s/m scenes for Dr. Alfred Kinsey, these are the amazing memoirs of a man who chucked a career as a college professor to satisfy his unconventional appetites and curiosities — and became famous as the erotic writer “Phil Andros.”
STEWARD, SAMUEL M.: Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos — A Social History of the Tattoo with Gangs, Sailors and Street-Corner Punks, 1950-1965 (Harrington Park Press, 1990). As “Phil Sparrow,” Steward worked as a tattooist long before such “body modifications” became semi-respectable.
THOMPSON, WILLIAM: Sadomasochism (Cassell, 1994). An English criminologist’s review of the legal and psychological concepts and definitions of s/m in Western thought, the book was written to address the issues raised by the Spanner case, but it has implications that reach much further than British jurisprudence.
* THOMPSON, MARK, editor: Leatherfolk — Radical Sex, People, Politics, and Practice (Alyson, 1991). This landmark anthology includes historical essays covering the 1940s to the 1990s by Samuel Steward, Thom Magister, Jack Fritscher, Gayle Rubin, David Stein, and the editor, plus other essays with a historical dimension by Joseph Bean, Guy Baldwin, John Preston, Pat Califia, Geoff Mains, Dianna Vesta, Eric Rofes, Wickie Stamps, Gabrielle Antolovich, and more.
THOMPSON, MARK: Gay Body — A Journey Through Shadow to Self (St, Martin’s, 1997). Thompson’s Jungian-influenced autobiography and meditation on the experience of growing up gay includes a good deal of historical material about the leather scene in California in the late 1970s and beyond.
TOWNSEND, LARRY: The Leatherman’s Handbook (1972) and The Leatherman’s Handbook II (1983). A classic. There have been various editions of both the original and the revised version (a very different book), and a 25th Anniversary edition of the original has now been published by the author. Townsend’s roots are in the early 1960s in Southern California, where he was a gay-rights activist as well as one of the first to publish gay kink erotica, including his own stories as well as work by other authors and artists. Beyond all the technical information and advice on cruising, relationships, scene-play, and so on, each book can be read as a kind of collage of the gay leather scene at a moment in time.
* GUY BALDWIN: “The Old Guard: Classical Leather Culture Revisited,” in International Leatherman #20 (Sept.-Oct. 1998), is an excellent introduction and gives a very persuasive explanation of the mutiple factors leading to the eclipse of the “old guard.” Also, “The Journey,” a free online column hosted by Leather Navigator, kicked off with two fascinating personal memoirs, “The Road to Leatherville” (Nov. 1997) and “Walking on Sand” (February 1998).
BLACK SHEETs #12 (fall 1997): “Sex Pioneers — San Francisco in the ’70s.” Part 2 will appear in issue #15, scheduled for late 1998-early 1999.
CHECKMATE #13 (November 1995) through #18 (February 1997): Charles Clark’s reminiscences about the gay s/m scene in the New York area from the 1950s to the post-Stonewall period.
CHECKMATE #19 (May 1997) and #20 (September 1997): Jack Fritscher’s personal perspective on the history of Drummer magazine and other topics in kink publishing (available online).
DRUMMER #136, January 1990: Mark Thompson’s essay on the first gathering, in 1979, of Black Leather Wings, a group of leathersex faeries, with his own photos of their recreations of Native American and other aboriginal pain rituals.
DRUMMER #139, May 1990: “Remembrance of Sleaze Past” by Jack Fritscher and Gayle Rubin’s history of The Catacombs, a famous leathersex/fisting club in San Francisco (a revised and expanded version of the latter is also in Mark
Thompson’s Leatherfolk anthology).
INTERNATIONAL LEATHERMAN #4 (Summer 1995) and most subsequent issues: “Dear Diary,” the still unconcluded story of “cliffy,” a novice slave, is actually Joseph Bean’s own memoir of his initiation into a leather “family” in 1966-67. Replete with “old guard” rituals and practices.
INTERNATIONAL LEATHERMAN #10 (Nov.-Dec. 1996): “Mecca Then,” a timeline of San Francisco’s leather scene in the 1970s.
INTERNATIONAL LEATHERMAN #13 (May-July 1997): interview with Larry Townsend; also “Back in My Day,” brief memoirs by eight leathermen about how they got started
INTERNATIONAL LEATHERMAN #15 (Oct.-Nov. 1997) and #16 (Dec. 1997-Jan. 1998): Joseph Bean’s two-part interview with filmmaker Roger Earle (Born to Raise Hell and the Dungeons of Europe series) amounts to a history of gay s/m video.
THE LEATHER JOURNAL #93 (June-July 1997): The 10th Anniversary issue includes reprints from many past issues charting ten years in our community as seen from Southern California.
PROMETHEUS #24 (Winter 1996): The 25th Anniversary issue of The Eulenspiegel Society’s magazine offers a number of historical pieces and reprints from TES archives, including “S/M Through the Ages” and a history of TES itself.
RUBIN, GAYLE: Several articles based on her dissertation (see NONFICTION BOOKS above) have been published, including a chapter on San Francisco’s South of Market leather bars in _Reclaiming San Francisco — History, Politics, Culture_, edited by James Brook, Chris Carlsson, and Nancy J. Peters (City Lights, 1997); a history of The Catacombs in Drummer #139 (see above) and an expanded version in Leatherfolk (see MARK THOMPSON above); and “Elegy for the Valley of the Kings: AIDS and the Leather Community in San Francisco, 1981-1996” in In Changing Times, edited by Martin Levine, Peter Nardi, and John Gagnon (University of Chicago Press, 1997).
Erotic fiction can be a perilous guide to historical (or any) truth, and yet it is sometimes in our fictional creations that we most reveal ourselves. The following cannot be taken as gospel, but they are all extraordinarily revealing.
ANDREWS, TERRY: The Story of Harold (Holt Rinehart, 1974; the 1975 Avon Equinox trade paperback has illustrations by Edward Gorey). Written under a pseudonym by a best-selling children’s book author, the novel is set in New York’s sexual underground of the late 1960s and concerns a kinky bisexual man’s varied relationships. Although it was praised by the New York Times for its literary merit, no one dies at the end, not even the perverts! Apparently accurate historically, tremendously funny, and very moving all at the same time.
ANDROS, PHIL (pen name of Samuel Steward): $tud (Guild Press, 1969; abridged edition with introduction by John Preston published by Alyson, 1990). All of the Phil Andros books give some of the flavor of gay s/m and leathersex back when it was illicit and mostly hidden from unsuspecting eyes, but $tud was the first to be published, and it seems least compromised by the need to satisfy an audience or an editor with embellishments or idealizations.
ANDROS, PHIL: My Brother, the Hustler (1970; revised edition published by Perineum Press as My Brother, My Self in 1983, and more recently by Masquerade; a newly illustrated edition of the original version is forthcoming from Brush Creek Media) is notable for its accurate description of The Black Castle, a Chicago leather hang-out in the 1960s where the artist Etienne, Chuck Renslow (who owned the famed Gold Coast bar and still owns and runs the International Mr. Leather Contest), and their friends lived and played.
* CARNEY, WILLIAM: The Real Thing (Putnam’s, 1968; reissued by Richard Kasak Books in 1995 with an introduction by Michael Bronski). Set in the 1960s gay s/m scene in southern California and New York, this epistolary novel, consisting of letters from an experienced leatherman to his novice nephew, presents a largely accurate account of the prevailing mores, though with a tragic, ultimately s/m-negative slant. Carney was a “player” himself, if perhaps a misguided one, and the novel is a classic. Some consider its sequel, The Rose Exterminator (Everest House, 1982), to be even more interesting, but most critics have judged it harshly, at least as a reading experience.
* FRITSCHER, JACK: Leather Blues — The Adventures of Denny Sargent (Gay Sunshine, 1984). As terse and concentrated as the same author’s novel of the 1970s, Some Dance to Remember (Knights Press, 1990), is bloated, Leather Blues distills the 1960s leather-biker-outlaw-sex scene in just 82 memorable pages. www.jackfritscher.com contains bibliographies, interviews, and more. Fritscher, one of the great Drummer editors, seems to have been everywhere and done everyone during the “good old days” of leather culture.